Summary of the discussion, 1.12.2016
At Prime Minister’s Question Time on November 30th Theresa May commended a recent report from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship published by the Evangelical Alliance, which encouraged Christians to speak up for their faith at work: http://www.eauk.org/current-affairs/upload/Speak-Up-FINAL.pdf Apart from some obvious limitations- such as noise in some factories, and supervisors restricting chatter when people should be working- it’s likely that a good number of discussions about faith happen in workplaces. The fears of an aggressively secular society making this impossible seem exaggerated.
But the fact that society is gradually becoming more secular can raise questions about the basis of UK society [in the 2011 Census 47 percent of people in England and Wales aged 20 to 39 identified themselves as Christian, while 34 percent said they had “no religion”, compared to 70% Christian and 17% no religion of those aged 40 and over]. In the past the obvious consensus was that the UK was a “Christian” society (and some assert that it must remain so). This clearly does not mean that the UK puts what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount into practice (there has always been argument about how far that can or should be done). But it perhaps at least means that even from the time of Magna Carta (1215) there has been a sense that there is a (“divine”?) justice that should take precedence over the will of any earthly power.
Today, however, it appears that democracy (the will of the majority) claims the right to define what is just and good for society. But there have been many examples of the majority adopting policies which scapegoat minorities- whether immigrants, the poor, or other groups seen as the “cause of society’s problems”. If we live in an economy which provides well for the majority but excludes a minority (which capitalism appears to do) their exclusion appears to have no “main-stream” political remedy. And this is reinforced if we live in what is being called a “post-truth society”, where media can promote opinions that have little basis in fact, only able to be challenged if “the facts” can grab attention.
Does this make institutions like Parliament vulnerable to threatened street demonstrations (which risk becoming violent)? Should the Government have defended the role of the High Court (over triggering Article 50) more vigorously that it did? There and many other similar questions will become increasingly important as the UK deals with the process of leaving the EU.
In multi-faith parts of the UK such discussions can be easier to have (though perhaps also can be more contentious) because of the presence of other faiths, many of whom have their own view of how “divine law” should relate to the laws of society (though there is a range of views on this within all faiths, just as there are between Christians). And such discussions will spread to areas of the UK which still regard themselves as overwhelmingly “Christian”.
(We also mentioned other matters, such as the degree to which the European Union can be described as “democratic”; tensions with Putin’s Russia, as it has reacted to the eastward expansion of “the West” into areas it saw over several centuries as its own “sphere of influence”; and whether it was the theology of St Paul that made Jewish ethical teaching available to the Gentile world. But to try to include those would make this Summary far too long).